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What Does Frostbite Look Like?

Different Degrees of Frostbite Described

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What does frostbite look like? Here's an image of second-degree frostbitten fingers.

This photo depicts what appears to be a second-degree frostbite. The person in question, Dan Darley, claims that his frostbitten fingers took about one month to heal and then a few more weeks for sensation to be regained.

Photo by Flickr user North Pole Challenge
What frostbite looks like depends on its severity. According to Rod Brouhard, About.com's First Aid expert, affected skin can look red, blue, white or even pale. But which color represents which stage?

First-Degree Frostbites: Frostnip
Also known as frostnip, first-degree frostbites involve swelling, blistering and redness followed by a stinging or burning sensation. In fact, the affected area may look like it's been burned. Skin is soft to the touch. This stage is fairly easy to reverse, though the injured tissue may exhibit long-term insensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

Second-Degree Frostbites: Superficial Frostbite
As frostbite progresses, affected skin turns white or yellow, giving it a waxy appearance. And that stinging or burning felt during the first stage? It turns into more of a tingling or prickly sensation. Skin is firmer to the touch but tissue underneath is soft. As with frostnip, long-term insensitivity to both hot and cold temperatures in the affected area may result from this level of exposure.

Third-Degree Frostbites: Deep Frostbite
If that initial burning-turned-tingling sensation evolves into a decrease of sensation altogether, that may be a sign that the frostbite has gone past the skin freezing muscles, tendons, blood vessels, nerves and maybe even bone. Swelling and blisters filled with blood are a common sight with deep frostbite. Skin looks waxy, a blotchy mix of white, grey and yellow which may turn to a purplish blue when it warms up. Skin is hard to the touch. It may even appear blackened and dead. Affected area may never regain sensation again. Tissue damage, or necrosis, is present at this point. Extreme cases may require amputation.

Sources: About.com First Aid, eMedecineHealth, Medscape, WebMD

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